James W. Dye
James W. Dye, president of JWD Management, Inc. and president of the James W. and Betty Dye Foundation, both in Munster, had building in his blood from the beginning.
“I started working young and had a good work ethic. I started working at odd jobs at Standard Lumber and elsewhere. I worked as a block layer, soda jerk, had a paper route, delivered vegetables, raised chickens,” says Dye.
After Dye graduated from Hammond High School in 1949, he went on to attend Indiana University and is still very involved in the campus today. “I was active down there, in charge of student spirit and I was a basketball manager. I was a Sigma Chi while I was in school and graduated as a business major and studied real estate,” he says. Dye has since served on the board of trustees for Indiana University from 1984 to 1990 and last October received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the institution.
After college, Dye served with the Army Corps of Engineers and further honed his real estate skills, he says. “I was a real estate utilization and inspection officer and because the war was over I was very busy with releasing properties back to Korea and Japan,” says Dye.
At this time he also gained critical training that he says was one of the most important skills for his career. “I got my pilot’s license and I’ve been flying ever since. I think flying did a lot for me, being able to fly to different locations and see what was going on with construction. It’s easy to get to Indianapolis, to Bloomington, or Washington DC, or wherever I wanted to go,” he says.
It was during one of these flying trips to go fishing in Canada that he met his wife, Betty, with whom he was married for 50 years before her death two years ago. “She was a beautiful girl, great mother, great supporter,” says Dye. Together they have five children.
While still in college, Dye earned his real estate license at the age of 20. Although he legally couldn’t use that license for another year, Dye began paving the way for his future career. Building his first home over summer break, Dye got a taste for a life of building, and when his father died in 1953, Dye, only 21 years old, came back to help run the family business, working in the office. In the early 1960s, Dye founded the Landmark Corporation and began building homes. “It was the biggest builder in Lake County for years,” he says.
This business segued into building luxury apartment buildings, an idea Dye had from flying over the country. “In the mid ‘60s, to get financing you had to get three market surveys and all three said we would not be successful building luxury apartments with pools and club houses. But being able to fly around and see what I saw in Indianapolis and Texas and Washington and around the country, I knew we could be successful,” he says. Soon the Mansards Apartment Complex was built with 1,430 units and the Mansards Racquet Club followed, both in Griffith.
Dye sold the Mansards in 1984 when he saw tax laws were changing and he decided to pursue a new phase of his career—investing. He also purchased farm land and owned a buffalo farm in Wolcott, Indiana, but investing was a natural progression for Dye. “I got into the investment business because I tried to hire other people to do it for me and it didn’t work out,” he says. Working in this area for Indiana University and St. Margaret’s Hospital on capital campaigns, Dye got a taste for his next endeavor, co-founder of the James W. and Betty Dye Foundation, along with his wife. “I wanted to give back to Northwest Indiana. We’ve been giving scholarships for 15 years to people because Lake County has too low a base of college graduates. We have some of the best universities in the country but we do not have the number of students who graduate from college as elsewhere,” he says.
Last year the foundation offered 28 scholarships to Lake County students which pay all of their tuition for four years at Purdue University, Indiana University, Ball State, or any of the extensions. “We plan to continue to foundation after I’m gone and our program has been very successful. Our return on our investment is we get a copy of their diploma. Our completion ratio is over 90% so our kids make it and they are very appreciative and keep in touch. We just have awfully good kids,” says Dye.
Building homes, building lives has been the focus of James W. Dye’s career since he began working as a kid in his father’s store. Even today at age 79 he is still going strong, running the foundation, overseeing the farm land he still owns and leases, and enjoying life. “I still fly quite a bit, a Piper Cub, and fly around Indiana with my dog, Andy, and he’s a super dog. He’s my companion. We go flying together and fishing. He goes to my office everyday and he sits in the back seat in my plane. Life is good,” he says.